Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Fine Day Out #2: Whiteman Lane

An outing can nourish the spirit without involving travel to some distant & exotic locale; in fact, sometimes an outing simply involves walking out the front door & exploring the landscape around you. That’s what Eberle & I decided to do on Saturday.

As long-time readers know, we live on a dirt road that wends its way over the course of several miles past our house upward into the Payette National Forest. Almost directly opposite our house, another dirt road turns off at a 90-degree angle; this is Whiteman Lane, named after the ranching family that once owned 1,000 acres in this part of the valley—our 10-acre lot was really the only piece of land around her that wasn’t owned by the Whitemans.

Back around ‘00, the current Whiteman, a retired County magistrate, decided to sell his land & cash in on the boom that was beginning at the time. The 1,000-acre Whiteman r
anch became the “Gray’s Creek Meadows” planned unit development, in which 40-acre lots were up for sale. One fine spring day in the late 90s, a large sign appeared down the road from us advertising the development & showing the numbered lot parcels.

It was a sad day. Up till then, our little corner of the world had a sort of “splendid isolation” (to quote Warren Zevon, but in another context). There was very little traffic on the dirt road that ran past our property & practically no houses in view to the east.

This began to change. Soon cement truc
ks & pick-ups with metal toolboxes in the bed, & flatbeds carrying lumber & trusses began to roll down the road with regularity. We felt quite fortunate that the two 40 acre lots across the road from our house were bought by some good-hearted folk who were interested in doing some ranching. But other lots were built up, all further to the east, & a road was constructed for the sub-division. Of course, folks who bought their property in the spring, when Indian Valley is a verdant paradise, became quite confused by July or August, when the land reveals its desert soul, & it’s 105 degrees & no rain has fallen for a few months.

A resort started across the mountain from us in Donnelly; Tamarack Resort—it was going to be the next “big thing,” & transform the McCall-Donnelly-Cascade area into the new Sun Valley. Land prices went thru the roof in that area, & while Indian Valley never saw the completely insane parts of the boom, a lot of effects were felt here as well—most notably, Governor Dirk Kempthorne (later Secretary of the Interior under Bush Jr) decided there had to be a fast route for getting from Boise to Tamarack—coincidentally, Kempthorne was an investor in the resort. There’s been talk of a road going from Emmett, Idaho thru Indian Valley for about 70 years, & Kempthorne resurrected this plan. The Emmett-Indian Valley Road was going to be a four lane highway smack thru our sleepy little village (not to mention smack thru elk & antelope habitat); moreover, the County Commissioners told me that the road would be close enough to our house that Eberle & I could run a roadside attraction….

There was a wild speculation—all the lots in Gray’s Creek Meadows were bought (tho very few were built up) in anticipation of Indian Valley becoming a stop on the way to the “World Class Resort” at Tamarack. The road that would come roaring thru Indian Valley would connect to a road up over Council Mountain along the Mild Fork of the Weiser River. Since very few people reading this have ever seen the current Middle Fork Road—a winding mountain dirt road that frequently narrows to one-lane with a cliff rising to the north & a precipice down to the river on the South—I can only say that building such a road would have been a very expensive proposition.

Then the bust came. Tamarack Resort is now bankrupt & closed & owned by a receiving company. Land values have fallen as precipitously as they rose. Any plans for the Emmett-Indian Valley road or the Middle Fork highway are completely moribund.

Obviously, the economic downturn has brought troubled times & an uncertain fut
ure to us all. It’s a cause for anxiety, & for many people, a source of real hardship. On the other hand, Indian Valley is once again sleepy—the meadowlarks & blackbirds are singing from the cottonwoods & aspens; the frogs are singing in the irrigation ditches. Somewhere south of the village in the empty rangelands, the antelope are grazing….

What does this have to do with our walk on Whiteman Lane?—nothing, or everythin
g. It’s a quiet dirt road that lies between rolling pastureland, with the round mass of Sage Hill to the northeast & a view of the eastern mountains stretching beyond. The cows are nursing & tending this year’s calves—barely a month old. There’s practically no traffic on the road, & no houses on the section we walk, just a red barn.

Hope you enjoy the pictures, & please take a few minutes if you can spare ‘em to watch the slideshow. The background music to the slideshow is a piece called “Hatrack the Horse” that Eberle & I wrote for a theatrical production of Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories—Hatrack the Horse is a character in those tales. It’s really pretty much a jam with yours truly on tenor banjo & Eberle on marimba. The slideshow also has pictures of the little “dump” that lies on the western side of the road. This (thankfully) is no longer a dump, but is an almost archeological collection of items that must date back a good 50 years, & is I suspect, a remnant from the old ranch. Various items become unearthed there, & Eberle & I—both inveterate junk collectors—often come away with some little treasure—an interesting & smooth piece of old glass, a small unidentified metal device, etc.

Welcome to our world (or a part thereof).


  1. Hi John & Eberle,

    I thoroughly enjoyed both the post and the video. The music was charming and fit the photos perfectly.

    I had no idea your region was given to such extreme temperatures and did not realize that you border on near-desert landscapes.

    I can see why it appeals to you so much. I (we) too, are "inveterate junk collectors" often picking stuff out of other people's trash on garbage day. I have a fantastic stuffed tiger (huge) that I grabbed off the boulevard of a neighbour down the street from us.

    That's the first time I've ever seen the year 2000 referred to as '00. It made me think twice.

    The resort build and economic situation harkens back to the old west and the promise of railroads. Puts me in mind of "Once Upon a Time in the West".


  2. Hi Kat:

    Thanks-- a good call about "Once Upon a Time in the West"-- a real favorite of mine; also "McCabe & Mrs Miller." This whole area has seen boom & bust cycles since the latter part of the 19th century-- mining, railroad, timber, land, etc.

    & yes, temperatures REALLY vary in Indian Valley-- not unusual to have days of 100+ weather in July & August & not unusual to have zero weather (& have seen down to -20) in January & February. But spring & fall are lovely!

  3. I didn't expect your video to make me quite this nostalgic. There was a time when I lived on a farm. I used to walk the fields in my Lady Greb boots, climb over the fences, and visit the animals - goats, in my case. Watching your slide show, I could smell damp earth and feel the crisp air on my face. I miss living on a farm.

    Robin and I plan to go for a little excursion in a few minutes. I think I'll suggest we head out to farm country.

  4. Thanks Sandra-- wherever you & Robin go, I hope you have a great time!

  5. Nice post. Is all the water in the arroyos & fields from snow melt or have you had rain? Very peaceful. I suppose a mixed blessing with the downturn in the economy. Peace & quiet; worry & fretting.

  6. Hi Cheryl:

    Thanks-- that's pretty much all snowmelt. We've had a very dry early March-- or had one until yesterday evening-- then thunderstorms, cloudbursts, etc. It's been raining off & on today.

    We love the fact that it's more peaceful around here-- just sorry how that came about.

  7. Really enjoyed your video. Live down a dirt track here, too, in the UK, in a rural farming area surrounded by low(ish) hills (the Yorkshire Dales). It was interesting to see the similarities and differences.

    Really liked the music too. Something about it reminded me of Harry Partch (which, I should add, I also really like!).

  8. This was an amazing blog. I love the landscape you live in. and I loved the music in that slide show. I am aspiring to be able to play like that some day. You seem to have been putting together a wonderful life. by the way what are these characters? (&amp) I grew up in Albuquerque New Mexico and a lot of the landscape in your photos remindes me of places around the mountains. There is a quote by Emerson where he is talking about the thoughts we dismiss and leave behind. I am reminded of it because of a certain aspiration to a lifestyle I dismissed, or was never quite able to get together. "he dismisses with out notice his thought (lifestyle yernings) because it is his. In every work of genius (of lifestyle creation) we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come bact to us with a certain alienated majesty"
    thatks for blogging

  9. Hi Dominic: Thanks for the musical compliment-- & yes, that would I think be interesting to compare a back road in rural Britain to one in rural Idaho.

    Hi Randy: Thanks. The Emerson quote is good. All in all, Eberle & I have been very fortunate in the life we've been able to make. The characters your asking about are html for an ampersand (&), tho they'd be inside brackets like this <>

  10. Thanks For Sharing.Enjoy the Silence & Beauty! Have A Good week.regards


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